State of Israel

An Interview with Michael Oren

Octavian Report: What do you think is driving the seeming realignment of certain nations towards Israel?

Michael Oren: About five years ago, when Secretary of State Kerry was traveling back and forth between Israel and the Palestinians, he almost invariably paused before getting on a plane back to the United States to issue a not-so-veiled threat against the state of Israel. The threat was, and we understood it as a threat, that if Israel did not make concessions to the Palestinians, we would be isolated internationally. To quote the Secretary: "isolated on steroids."

Today, you’ll find that Israel today is pointedly and emphatically less isolated than at any other time in its history. To the best of my knowledge, we've yet to make peace with Palestinians.

Our relationship with Latin America is at an unprecedented high. We've had the Prime Minister be the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit any country south of the United States of America. Now he’s visited four.

There are 51 countries in Africa, most of which cut off relations with us after the Arab boycott of the 1970’s, that have renewed relations with us. They're standing in line to strengthen those relationships with us. Our relationships with Eastern Europe, the former Soviet bloc countries, are excellent.

We didn't have relationships with China or India 30 years ago. They are our biggest trading partners outside of Europe today. With India, we also have a strategic relationship, an alliance.

And then we have the Sunni Arab world. I would venture to say that the Sunni Arab states no longer view us as an enemy state, but more to the point they view us as an allied state — an important ally.

These are sea changes. Much of the improvement in our foreign relations has been driven by Israeli technology, and our technology is in areas that everybody needs. Everyone needs water technology. Israel leads the world in water technology. Just in terms of reclamation, we reclaim about 90 percent of our water. The country that comes in second after Israel is Spain, with 13 percent.

We're way ahead in water technology. Then there’s our smart architecture. But it’s also in the defense fields. In cyber security, we're a world leader. Everybody needs defense today. Everyone's behind in the quest for cyber defense, and we are there. I was previously the deputy minister for diplomacy in the Prime Minister's office. I was meeting with foreign leaders almost every week, and they all came with the same requests: water and defense. Water, food, and defense. In those areas, at least, Israel's forging the 21st Century.

It is doing so in some other areas as well. The economy's thriving. There’s 3D printing. There’s biotech. There’s med tech. Most recently it's been cannabis: Israel's the only industrialized country that has been able to have human testing for cannabis. That puts us very much ahead.

Beyond that, Israel is perceived in the world today as a power. There was one international metric that had us as the eighth most powerful country in the world. This is a function of the IDF, which is today more than twice as big as the British and French armies combined. Add our ability to project power and to maintain close relationships with the leading powers of the world, whether they be Russia, China, or the United States, and Israel is uniquely positioned.

But the Sunni Arab world is a somewhat different dynamic. Because yes, it’s the power, and yes, it’s access to technology, but there it’s also Iran. Iran, Iran, Iran. Here again I have to go back to the latter years of the Obama Administration, when the President sought to bring Israel and the Sunni Arabs closer together through peace. He brought us together in the end, though not through peace. He brought us together through common opposition to his policies — particularly his policies toward Iran and the Iran nuclear deal, which strengthened, enriched, and legitimized Iran and has resulted in a major Iranian offensive across the Middle East. If you look at the map of the Middle East in 2016 and look at the areas under Iranian influence as blacked out, then a big chunk of the Middle East has been blacked out. Iran poses an existential threat to Israel; it poses an existential threat to the Sunni Arab region. This has created a confluence of interests. This is very intense and getting more intense every day.

OR: Do you see a future for the two-state solution?

Oren: Let’s have some clarification of terms here. First of all, not every solution's a two-state solution. A two-state solution may be an oxymoron. And we shouldn't confuse the two-state solution as a goal with the goal of making progress toward some type of resolution with the Palestinians.

The two-state solution in Israel has taken a tremendous blow. We have the highest natural increase rate of any industrialized country in the world, at 3.4 or 3.5 children per family, as opposed to 1.2 in Italy, 0.9 in Japan, or 1.9 in the United States. So we have a very big youth base.

That's a youth that does not remember the Camp David Accords, doesn't remember the Oslo Accords. What it remembers is Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza to make peace. We didn't get peace. We got thousands of rockets launched at us. They made the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, and we got thousands dead from suicide bombs. You cannot convince this young Israeli generation that by giving up territory or supporting a Palestinian state, you're going to get anything other than more dead Israelis.

The big fear of Israelis is that if this nation is going to be created, it better be created not to fall apart. If that happened, if it fell apart, it would fall to Hamas at best and to ISIS at worst. We're not going to have a terrorist state in Gaza. We're going to have a terrorist state next to our major cities and industrial areas, and that would be an existential threat. What the world may see as peace, Israelis see as an existential threat.